Evanston Lunar New Year celebration promotes Asian cultures and traditions


Katie Chen/The Daily Northwestern

Lion dances are traditionally performed during the Lunar New Year to bring good luck and ward off evil.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

The Main-Dempster Mile came alive with the sound of drums, cymbals and cheers as hundreds of Evanston residents gathered to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

The Main-Dempster Mile, Kitchen Table Stories Project, Kids Create Change and Evanston Pride co-hosted the celebration. This is the second year these groups have hosted a Lunar New Year celebration together.

Melissa Raman Molitor, the founder of both Evanston ASPA and Kitchen Table Stories Project, said the celebration is a part of a larger effort to increase the visibility and representation of local Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander American communities. 

“It is a way to bring the community together,” Molitor said. “It’s an opportunity for people to learn about Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by many different Asian cultures.”

The centerpiece of the celebration, the lion dance, featured two dancers dressed in a vibrant costume from the Chicago-based Seven Star Lion Dance Group. The red, golden and white lion jumped up and down to a traditional Chinese rhythm and playfully grabbed fruits, vegetables and red envelopes from the hands of people watching. 

Daron Lee, the group’s drummer, said lion dancing is a family tradition he learned by watching his father perform. Now, he’s teaching it to his son, who performed with the group Sunday. 

“We want (people) to learn about the lion dance and about the Chinese culture,” Lee said. “We do this to bring good luck and fortune and ward off evil spirits.”

In Pink & Tan, a Main-Dempster decor shop, children chatted and laughed around a long table filled with red papers, stickers and other art supplies for a lantern-making workshop. Many participants made creative designs with personal touches, like unique patterns and Chinese characters.

Maggie Peng, the owner of Pink & Tan, said the lanterns are an important part of the Chinese New Year celebration because they light the way for the new year. 

Peng, who moved to Evanston in 2020, said the celebration helps her connect with the broader ASPA community. She said she is glad to be able to host a part of the celebration and teach people about the many cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year. 

Mayor Daniel Biss and State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview) gave remarks at the celebration to highlight the importance of ASPA representation and recognizing its cultures. 

“This is a community that needs to be lifted up,” Biss said. “Not just when it comes to a single annual celebration, but when it comes to representation, when it comes to political power, when it comes to language access, when it comes to culturally appropriate access to all the broad diversity of public services that we’re so proud to provide here.” 

Biss and Gong-Gershowitz also addressed the Monterey, California shooting at a Lunar New Year festival Saturday, saying they stood in solidarity with grieving families.

Evanston resident Efia Peng saw the event advertised on the Downtown Evanston Instagram page and decided to go see the lion dance.

Efia Peng, who grew up in China, said the Lunar New Year in China is one of the few occasions each year when family members come together. For her, it is a very special memory. 

She said she wants to see more Chinese cultural events — but also events celebrating festivals from other cultures, like Diwali.

“I know that there are a lot of diverse groups of people living in Evanston, so (we should) not just have a New Year but other major festivals,” Efia Peng said. “I think we have the resources. People are definitely supportive. Why not?”

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